Monday, December 30, 2013

JTA’s 2013 news quiz

So, you think you know what’s going on in the Jewish world? Test just how closely you followed the year’s news (and remember it) with our end-of year-news quiz.

JTA News Quiz1. Berlin’s Jewish Museum provoked controversy this year with …

a) an exhibit exploring the origins of the swastika as an ancient Hindu symbol
b) an exhibit featuring Jews sitting in a glass box answering questions from visitors
c) an exhibit featuring selfies taken at Holocaust memorials
d) a panel discussion on whether or not Anne Frank would have been a “belieber”

2. Which of the following was NOT among the findings of the Pew survey of U.S. Jews?

a) Four percent of Orthodox Jews said they had a Christmas tree in their home last year
b) Twice as many Jews said having a sense of humor was essential to being Jewish as those who cited observing Jewish law
c) Fourteen percent of American Jews said they ate gefilte fish at least once a month
d) Seven times as many Conservative Jews as Reform Jews said they can carry on a conversation in Hebrew

3. Rabbi Binyomin Ginsberg’s Supreme Court case against Northwest Airlines concerned …

a) too many Sabbath-eve takeoffs near Ginsberg’s home
b) Northwest dropping Ginsburg from its frequent-flier program for complaining too much
c) Ginsburg’s removal from a flight after putting on his tallis and tefillin
d) the distribution of pretzels aboard a Northwest flight that were not strictly kosher

Continue reading.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Reform Judaism tries for a ‘reboot’ in face of daunting challenges

By Uriel Heilman for JTA

SAN DIEGO (JTA) – What do you get when you bring together 5,000 of the Reform movement’s faithful for a conference in sunny San Diego in mid-December?

RebootFour days of singing, learning, schmoozing and worrying at a gathering that seemed equal parts pep rally and intervention session.

For pep, there were the spirited prayer services, the morning-till-night stream of musical performances and Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, or URJ, who compared the challenges facing the movement to giant waves, crying “Surf’s up!”

“Big waves require more skill and courage to ride, but if ridden artfully they enable us to go faster and further than ever before,” Jacobs said, a giant screen projecting a swell behind him.

For the intervention, there was session after session devoted to the challenges facing the movement, especially the question of how to engage young adult Jews who, by and large, are steering clear of Reform synagogues.

“I think the Reform movement needs to remember that no matter how much we double down on great programming, it might not increase the likelihood that those young people are going to walk in,” Rabbi B. Elka Abrahamson, a Reform rabbi who is president of the Wexner Foundation, said in a conference session focused on the recent Pew Research Center survey of U.S. Jewry. “I think that’s really hard for this gathering to keep in mind because we are the people who love what we do, and we just think if we do more of it and do it better and do it more often and do it faster that they’re going to come.”

Though Reform is the largest denomination in American Jewish life, there was palpable concern at the conference that the movement is headed for a diminished future. The fastest-growing group in American Jewry is Jews of no religion, and the denomination doing best at holding its own is Orthodox, according to the Pew survey.

Reform membership is dwindling, synagogues are struggling to secure their bottom lines and, as Jacobs noted at the last biennial, 80 percent of Reform Jews are “out the door” by the end of high school. Many never return: Fewer than half of Reform parents have their children enrolled in some kind of Jewish youth, camp or educational program, the Pew survey showed.

Jacobs has promised to “reboot” the movement, and he is focusing his efforts on young people.

 Continue reading.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Duncan McAlpine Sennett, Oregon Teen, Delivers Bar Mitzvah Speech In Support Of Gay Marriage

An Oregon teen is heating up the blogosphere after video footage of his incredible Bar Mitzvah speech in support of same-sex marriage surfaced.

In the clip, Duncan McAlpine Sennett, who reportedly became a Bar Mitzvah at Portland's Congregation Beth Israel, offers his d’var Torah analysis of the Bible chapter in Genesis covering Jacob’s marriage to Leah and Rachel, two sisters who also happened to be his first cousins, observing that "the definition of traditional marriage is nothing like what people think it is today."

He then adds, "I am a very, very strong supporter of equal rights and the freedom of men and women to marry whomever they love."

Noting that his family is "very close friends" with a number of same-sex couples, which he describes as "wonderful people, wonderful parents and wonderful couples," Sennett says he has attended Prop 8 rallies and a same-sex wedding in the past as he is "proud to be part of a congregation that is 100 percent in support of same-sex marriage." 

If you can't view the video, try this link.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Alan Dershowitz retiring from Harvard Law School

BOSTON (JTA) — Alan Dershowitz, one of the country’s most prominent lawyers and a passionate, sometimes controversial, advocate for Israel, is retiring from Harvard Law School.

Alan DershowitzThe 75-year-old lawyer, who is known for taking on high profile and often unpopular causes and clients, has taught at Harvard Law for half a century. His retirement is official at the end of the week.

In 1967, he became the youngest full professor in the school’s history. An expert in criminal and constitutional law, Dershowitz has served on the defense team of celebrities including O.J. Simpson and Claus von Bulow and, more recently, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.

Dershowitz, speaking from a conference in Israel, said last week according to the Boston Globe: “Yeah, I’m really retiring. …My retirement consists of reducing my schedule down to only about 10 things at any given time.”

Dershowitz, a Brooklyn native who has written and spoken often on his Orthodox Jewish upbringing and education, has used his prominence to defend Israel over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Among his harshest critics is Noam Chomsky, the renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology linguist with whom he has had a long-running public feud over Israel.

In 2006, Dershowitz publicly challenged former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, for the views he expressed in his book “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,” calling the book biased.

While “proud to be Jewish and engaged with Israel’s future,” Dershowitz also assisted Palestinian students when they sought inclusion of the Palestinian flag in a campus display, Harvard Law School dean Martha Minow told JTA.

Minow described Dershowitz as a devoted teacher of 50 years. “We look forward to his continuing vibrancy, wit, and wisdom,” she said in an email to JTA.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Major storm, promised to be 3 times worse than previous days, under way in J’lem

Snow in Jerusalem

Municipality urging everyone to stay indoors as weather conditions worsen; electric corp. declares national state of emergency; tens of thousands left without power

By Times of Israel staff
Here are a couple of pictures.  Watch a great slideshow of more great pictures of snow in the Holy City.


Thursday, December 12, 2013

Who's funding non-Orthodoxy in Israel? Not who you think...

Unlike in America, Israelis don't pay to pray. This has created a problem, that has found an unorthodox solution.

By Judy Maltz for Haaretz

It’s taken almost 35 years, but if all goes as planned, Torat Hayyim, one of Israel’s oldest Conservative congregations, will finally move into its permanent home this coming March.

 Who's funding non-Orthodoxy in IsraelThe roof above the 500-square-meter facility is already in place, and the floor tiles are now being laid. But rather than wait until the final nail is hammered into place, dozens of members of the Herzliya congregation, impatient to get a glimpse of their new home, piled into the construction site a few weeks ago to hold their annual Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony.

It cost more than $1 million to fund the building, and as Ruth Ritterband, co-president of the congregation, knows firsthand, raising that kind of money in Israel for this kind of project is no small challenge, which is why most of the funding came from donors abroad.

“In the U.S., the concept of giving and fundraising is very different from here,” says American-born Ritterband, who held various senior positions in the Conservative movement-affiliated Solomon Schechter school network before moving to Israel. “There are expectations that you’ll give there to the synagogue, the federation, the JCC – and not only that you’ll give, but also how much you’ll give. There just isn’t a tradition in Israel of giving for buildings.”

Nor is there a deep-seated tradition of paying congregational membership dues here, as Gilad Kariv, executive director of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism, knows all too well. “There’s something in their DNA that makes it hard for Israelis to understand the idea of having these institutions voluntarily funded,” he notes. Especially, he adds, when they see the government allocating 2 billion shekels annually in taxpayer money to the officially sanctioned Orthodox establishment and its institutions.

So if neither the government nor the public is willing to cough up the money to finance alternative religious institutions that are not recognized by the state, how is it that the number of Conservative and Reform congregations has grown dramatically in the past 15-20 years? And where is the money coming from to pay for the buildings and services they provide?

 Continue reading.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Kissin takes Israeli citizenship

By Tom Gross for Mideast Dispatches

KissinWhile some other leading artists are calling for a boycott of Israel, I can now reveal that Evgeny Kissin, generally regarded as one of the world’s greatest living pianists, will on Saturday take Israeli citizenship.

Unlike some Israeli musicians, Evgeny Kissin, who was born in Russia and has in recent years resided in London and Paris, is fiercely proud of being Jewish and of the Jewish state.

On Saturday evening at the Mishkenot Sha’ananim arts center in Jerusalem, he will receive his Israeli passport from another prominent Soviet-born Jew, Natan Sharansky (who, of course, spent years in solitary confinement in the gulag for saying he wanted to live in freedom). Evgeny will give a recital next Monday at Binyanei Ha’Uma, Jerusalem’s largest indoor venue.

Evgeny is long-standing subscriber to this email list, as well as being a personal friend of mine. He has asked for his original statement, made when he started the process of applying for Israeli citizenship almost two years ago (in Jan. 2012), to now be made public, so journalists and others subscribing to this list can read it.

In it, he says:

“I am a Jew, Israel is a Jewish state – and since long ago I have felt that Israel, although I do not live there, is the only state in the world with which I can fully identify myself, whose case, problems, tragedies and very destiny I perceive to be mine.

“If I, as a human being and artist represent anything in the world, it is my Jewish people, and therefore Israel is the only state on our planet which I want to represent with my art and all my public activities, no matter where I live.

“When Israel’s enemies try to disrupt concerts of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra or the Jerusalem Quartet, I want them to come and make troubles at my concerts, too: because Israel’s case is my case, Israel’s enemies are my enemies, and I do not want to be spared of the troubles which Israeli musicians encounter when they represent the Jewish State beyond its borders.

“I have always deeply despised chauvinism and have never regarded my people to be superior to other peoples; I feel truly blessed that my profession is probably the most international one in the world, that I play music created by great composers of different countries, that I travel all over the world and share my beloved music with people of different countries and nationalities – but I want all the people who appreciate my art to know that I am a Jew, that I belong to the People of Israel. That’s why now I feel a natural desire to travel around the world with an Israeli passport.”

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Now Is the Time for All Communities To Speak Out Against Knockout Attacks Targeting Jews

Innocent people shouldn’t fear walking down the street, whatever their faith—and everyone must push back against the madness

By Rev. Al Sharpton for Tablet Magazine
Knockout Attacks Because I am a preacher and an advocate for civil rights, my life’s work has centered on the notion of equality and justice for all. Whether it’s fighting on behalf of victims of police brutality, pushing for immigration reform, or simply highlighting inequity, I firmly believe that we only progress forward when we unite across racial, ethnic, and religious lines in our efforts to right serious wrongs.

Humanity calls upon all of us to put aside our own personal identities and speak up when we witness deplorable incidents. Such a moment is once again before us, and this time the victims appear to be members of the Jewish community. I stand with them in strongly condemning the outrageous behavior referred to as “knockout games”—in which an attacker or attackers attempt to knock out an unsuspecting person with a single sucker punch. It’s not a joke, it’s not a game, and nobody is laughing.

In recent weeks, authorities have reported a rise in “knockout” incidents in areas around the country. Innocent folks have been struck while simply walking down the street, including a 78-year-old Jewish woman in Brooklyn last month. There simply aren’t enough adjectives to describe how despicable and reprehensible this behavior is. Anyone who would punch an elderly woman deserves no mercy in a court of law. While these cases are all horrific and inexcusable, there appears to be another troubling element in many of the attacks, especially in my home city of New York: Like the elderly woman, many of the reported victims have been Jewish. Police maintain that they cannot definitively conclude a pattern of biased behavior yet, but we—those who work diligently against racism and discrimination—can and must speak out now.

Continue reading.

Monday, December 9, 2013

The UN's Palestinian refugee agency is a farce

By Adi Schwartz for Mosaic
With much international media coverage, a photo exhibition called “The Long Journey” opened at the end of November in the old city of Jerusalem. A few dozen black and white images from the archives of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) will be on display until the end of January, when they will move on to Europe and North America.

These images of Palestinian refugees are part of a digital archive compiled by UNRWA, a project that was hailed by the agency's commissioner general, Filippo Grandi, as "a contribution to building a national heritage for the Palestinians." On UNRWA's website, the exhibition is considered part of the Palestinian "collective memory" and "communal identity."

While a photo exhibition in itself is hardly a problem, it serves nonetheless as an excellent example of the negative and non-constructive role that UNRWA—supposedly a neutral organization—plays in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Even the date chosen to launch the exhibition, Nov. 28, one day before the day commemorating the 1947 UN Partition Plan, is symbolic for the pro-Palestinian stance this UN body adopted.

It was the Arab rejection of the 1947 proposal to divide Mandatory Palestine into two states, Jewish and Arab, that caused the Arab-Israeli war in 1948 and the displacement of some 750,000 Palestinians (the number of the refugees has since swollen to 5 million). UNRWA's mere existence, therefore, is a result of the Arab rejection of the 1947 proposal, but you won't find this piece of information in UNRWA's publications.

UNRWA's role was to distribute humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian refugees and to provide them with healthcare and education. Along the years, however, the UN agency has perpetuated the refugee problem, which is probably the most difficult sticking point in the conflict, since the Palestinian refugees insist on their right to return to Israel. Any sober observer understands that no Israeli leader would ever let in so many Palestinians, as it would mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state.

The Palestinian refugee population is the only one in the world that keeps growing after 65 years. Palestinian refugees are the only ones with a separate UN agency taking care of them; the world’s other downtrodden have to make do with only one agency (UNHCR). The Palestinians even have a separate definition for their refugee status, which has no cessation clauses (the international definition has six). Palestinians are the only ones in the world who can be at the same time citizens of a country and refugees.

How is it that not a single Palestinian refugee was resettled in 65 years? How is it possible that 1.5 million Palestinian "refugees" are at the same time Jordanian citizens? Why are there refugee camps today in the Gaza Strip, which is fully controlled by the Palestinians? How can they be considered refugees by UNRWA, if they live in their own land?

The answer to all these questions is that UNRWA has sided with the most intransigent Palestinian view that calls for the return of millions of Palestinians and for the destruction of Israel. Absurdly, Western donors are financing an organization which prevents any possibility of a peaceful resolution of the Middle East conflict: total contributions to UNRWA have risen from $330 million in 2000 to $1 billion in 2009. This UN agency, the representative of the family of nations, is sponsored not by Iran or Hezbollah, but by Western governments, even though the outcome runs contrary to their interest.

The new exhibition sheds light on another problematic aspect of UNRWA – its participation in constructing a Palestinian "national heritage," "collective memory" and "communal identity." Since when is a supposedly neutral UN body involved in constructing a collective memory of one side to a conflict? Why should the international community strengthen an identity built on the negation of Israel's right to exist, which is what the "Right of Return" means?

Israeli construction of settlements in the West Bank is rightly considered by the international community a unilateral step that could affect the final status agreement. But so is the absurd continuation of the refugee problem by UNRWA: each day there are more refugees, and each day their refugee status is being reinforced and perpetuated by UNRWA. Since the refugee problem is the single biggest obstacle to a peaceful territorial two-state solution, it is high time the international community changed UNRWA's mandate and pushed for more constructive solutions to the Palestinian refugee problem.

Adi Schwartz is an independent Israeli journalist and researcher.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Nelson Mandela Dies at 95

Legendary South African leader fought for racial equality and peaceful resistance

By Stephanie Butnick for Tablet Magazine

MandelaWe’re saddened to report that Nelson Mandela has died at 95. The legendary leader, who was imprisoned for 27 years, was South Africa’s first black president and a tireless voice against racial oppression.

When Mandela was hospitalized this summer, Dana Evan Kaplan, a reform rabbi who used to live in Cape Town, described his experience meeting then-President Mandela at interfaith events. Earlier this month Richard Kreitner wrote about the Jews in South Africa who allied with and supported Mandela in his revolutionary struggles.

The New York Times has a moving video tribute to Mandela, who leaves behind a rich and enduring legacy.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Muslim World’s Intellectual Refuseniks Offer Enlightened Views on Islam and Israel

Egyptian playwright Ali Salem and others are marginalized at home and in the Western media, but they are political pioneers

By David Mikics for Tablet Magazine

Ali SalemWhen it comes to the Muslim world, Western opinion-makers seem to have a taste for what Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci called “organic intellectuals”—figures whose intellectual and political virtue flows from their rootedness in their native cultures. The West is allowed to admire its own native pantheon of free-thinking men and women who turned their backs on racism, anti-Semitism, and sexism and relied on the fiercest invective to scorch false beliefs and repressive practices. But Muslim intellectuals who condemn even the worst aspects of their own societies must be rootless cosmopolitans rather than genuine voices of Islam: It’s assumed that true voices of Islam must, to some degree, be racists, anti-Semites, and sexists.

This twisted general logic was seen most recently in the New York Times’ hiring the Egyptian novelist Alaa Al-Aswany as a regular op-ed columnist despite, or because of, his authentic belief in “a massive Zionist organization” that “rules America.” But perhaps the most famous instance was Ian Buruma’s celebration of the bigoted Muslim cleric Tariq Ramadan. Of course, Buruma admitted, Ramadan’s nudges toward reform were necessarily subtle, given the hidebound prejudices of the people he was addressing: He called, for example, for a “moratorium” on stoning women for “honor” offenses (i.e., having sex), rather than condemning the brutal practice altogether. Still, the fact that Ramadan’s tapes sold well on the Muslim street made him a model of reform-minded Muslim thinking worth drooling over. By contrast, Buruma suggested in other articles, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, an apostate from Islam, was alienated from her culture and therefore a fitting object of contempt—precisely because she was repulsed by misogyny and had been condemned to death by her accusers. Buruma’s strange defense of Ramadan and even stranger attack on Hirsi Ali were dissected by Paul Berman in his book The Flight of the Intellectuals: Berman argued that Hirsi Ali was just as representative of what happens in the Muslim world as Ramadan and just as entitled to speak about it; moreover, Buruma’s assumption that Hirsi Ali would be ignored by “real” Muslims was wildly condescending—those people, Buruma seemed to be saying, just aren’t ready for enlightenment.

 Continue reading.

The Muslim World’s Intellectual Refuseniks Offer Enlightened Views on Islam and Israel

Egyptian playwright Ali Salem and others are marginalized at home and in the Western media, but they are political pioneers

By David Mikics for Tablet Magazine

Ali SalemWhen it comes to the Muslim world, Western opinion-makers seem to have a taste for what Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci called “organic intellectuals”—figures whose intellectual and political virtue flows from their rootedness in their native cultures. The West is allowed to admire its own native pantheon of free-thinking men and women who turned their backs on racism, anti-Semitism, and sexism and relied on the fiercest invective to scorch false beliefs and repressive practices. But Muslim intellectuals who condemn even the worst aspects of their own societies must be rootless cosmopolitans rather than genuine voices of Islam: It’s assumed that true voices of Islam must, to some degree, be racists, anti-Semites, and sexists.

This twisted general logic was seen most recently in the New York Times’ hiring the Egyptian novelist Alaa Al-Aswany as a regular op-ed columnist despite, or because of, his authentic belief in “a massive Zionist organization” that “rules America.” But perhaps the most famous instance was Ian Buruma’s celebration of the bigoted Muslim cleric Tariq Ramadan. Of course, Buruma admitted, Ramadan’s nudges toward reform were necessarily subtle, given the hidebound prejudices of the people he was addressing: He called, for example, for a “moratorium” on stoning women for “honor” offenses (i.e., having sex), rather than condemning the brutal practice altogether. Still, the fact that Ramadan’s tapes sold well on the Muslim street made him a model of reform-minded Muslim thinking worth drooling over. By contrast, Buruma suggested in other articles, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, an apostate from Islam, was alienated from her culture and therefore a fitting object of contempt—precisely because she was repulsed by misogyny and had been condemned to death by her accusers. Buruma’s strange defense of Ramadan and even stranger attack on Hirsi Ali were dissected by Paul Berman in his book The Flight of the Intellectuals: Berman argued that Hirsi Ali was just as representative of what happens in the Muslim world as Ramadan and just as entitled to speak about it; moreover, Buruma’s assumption that Hirsi Ali would be ignored by “real” Muslims was wildly condescending—those people, Buruma seemed to be saying, just aren’t ready for enlightenment.

 Continue reading.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

8 Jerusalem Flavors

From The Jewish Daily Forwards

We had the pleasure to chat with the famous chef duo, Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, during their New York visit. The location couldn't be more perfect – immersed in the colorful smells of Kalustyans Spice Market in Manhattan, we could focus on one key question: What are the flavors that define your hometown? 

Watch and learn how to make your own Jerusalem Spice box.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Bibi’s gift to Pope Francis: A book on when the church persecuted the Jews

By Ben Sales for JTA

Sounds like Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had a lovely meeting with Pope Francis.

They talked for about a half-hour, focused on peace talks and touched on Iran. Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, encouraged Francis to visit Israel. And Netanyahu gave the pope a book with the inscription, “To his Holiness Pope Franciscus, a great shepherd of our common heritage.”

The one slightly uncomfortable part may have been that the book was about one of the worst things the Catholic Church has ever done to the Jews.

The book was “The Origins of the Inquisition in Fifteenth Century Spain,” the scholarly magnum opus written by the prime minister’s late father, Benzion. The in-depth tome on the Spanish Inquisition describes how the church persecuted, and often executed, masses of Jewish converts to Catholicism who were accused of secretly practicing Judaism.

Maybe the gift was yet another reminder from Netanyahu about the dangers of ignoring an existential threat to the Jewish people (read: Iran). Maybe the pope is an avid student of history.

Or maybe, in an age where a Jewish prime minister can meet cordially with the pope, it’s a sign of just how far we’ve come.

The Slippery History of Jews & Olive Oil

Olive OilWhat's so holy about olive oil? On Hanukkah, olive oil is a part of the story. According to the Talmud the Maccabees only found one sealed vessel of consecrated olive oil with which to light the Menorah. To celebrate the eight days of overtime that oil worked, we break out the oil for our own menorahs, plus latkes, sufganiyot, and other delicious things.

But oil has a much bigger role to play in Jewish life—in Exodus God gives a recipe for shemen hamishchah, the oil of anointing. This oil is made up of olive oil combined with spices (myrrh, cinnamon, cassia, and either sweet calamus or cannabis, depending on who you ask) and is used to anoint holy things, including everything in the Tabernacle, all of the priests, some prophets, and kings.

We no longer pour oil on things we think are holy (think how greasy synagogues would be if we did!), but it's nice to have this one holiday where we connect with our slippery, wonderfully scented history.

- Tamar Fox for Jewniverse

Monday, December 2, 2013

Survivors recall Kindertransport flight from Nazis

LONDON (AP) — The operation was called Kindertransport — Children's Transport — and it was a passage from hell to freedom.

Kristallnacht had just rocked Nazi Germany. The pogroms killed dozens of Jews, burned hundreds of synagogues and imprisoned tens of thousands in concentration camps. Many historians see them as the start of Hitler's Final Solution.

KindertransportAmid the horror, Britain agreed to take in children threatened by the Nazi murder machine.

Seventy-five years ago this week, the first group of kids arrived without their parents at the English port of Harwich, and took a train to London's Liverpool Street Station.

Some 10,000 children, most but not all Jewish, would escape the Nazis in the months to come — until the outbreak of war in September 1939, when the borders were closed.

From London the children went to homes and hostels across Britain. But their parents — the few that eventually made it over — were placed in camps as "enemy aliens."

Many of the children settled in Britain, having found their families wiped out by the Nazis.

Monday is World Kindertransport Day, with events to mark the anniversary in many countries. These are the stories of five Kinder in their own words. The AP has removed some sentences for purposes of condensing their accounts.


My father was not a German citizen. On the night before Kristallnacht, he was arrested by the Gestapo.

That was the last I saw of my father.

As soon as we found out (about the Kindertransport), my mother went to where the committee was and put my name down. She wouldn't put my brother down because, she said, "I don't want to lose both my sons on one day."

I'll never forget the last words my mother said: "Will I ever see you again?"

Continue reading.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Did You Get Invited to Obama's Hanukkah Party?

By Nathan Guttman for The Jewish Daily Forward

Obama's Hanukkah PartyIt’s time to check your inbox. The White House has sent out invitation for this year’s Hanukkah reception hosted by President Obama.

It is a good way of measuring one’s status in the world of Jewish leadership. If you’re not invited to the White House reception you’re either from the wrong party (in that case you might want to check out the RJC’s party) or you’ve just no longer a “Jewish leader.”

The good news is that this year’s list of invitees, which usually reaches 300-400 members of the tribe, is expected to be even bigger. In fact, the traditional White House Hanukkah reception will, for the first time, be divided into two receptions, one after the other.

The events, an administration source promised, would be identical, so no need to fret over which reception is better. They’ll be plenty of Jewish VIP’s at both events. Israeli-born Grammy winning violinist Miri Ben-Ari is expected to perform, and, just as in previous years, the White House kitchen will be made kosher for one day, to provide for the crowd.

For those who did not get a White House invitation, they’ll be a host of other opportunities to light the Menorah with Washington movers and shakers: at the Congress, the Pentagon, and of course the traditional lighting of the National Menorah sponsored by Chabad at the Ellipse just south of the White House, next to the national Christmas tree.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Eight Giving Rituals for Your Family: Making the Most of Thanksgivukkah

Stefanie Zelkind, JTFN Director

From menurkeys to sweet potato latke recipes, there are many creative ways to celebrate this year’s unique overlap of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving. In an effort to move beyond the kitsch, I would like to offer some additional ideas for blending the Hanukkah tradition of giving with the Thanksgiving ideal of gratitude. Here are eight suggestions (sorry, I couldn’t resist) of how to use Thanksgivukkah as a launch pad for learning, giving, and values-based family activities.

1.  During Thanksgiving dinner, take a “gratitude break.” Ask everyone to take a moment to think about the best gift they have ever received (Was it a tangible gift? Was it an experience? What is a key lesson learned? Who gave it to you? What made it so special?) as well as the best gift they’ve ever given (To whom? Why did you give it?) Go around the table and share. You may just learn that your daughter’s favorite gift was that quiet morning you spent snuggling together on the couch, and not the iPod Touch you got her last Hanukkah.

2.  Make the tzedakah box the centerpiece on the table, and invite guests to give - a quarter, a dollar, or more - to a collective tzedakah pool. Over dessert, ask each guest to suggest an organization or cause to support and give a 60-second pitch explaining why it’s important. Then, talk about the different issues raised, hold a straw vote, and come to a shared decision about which organization(s) you’ll support. Don’t focus on the amount of money (although you may be surprised at how generous people are); it’s about the discussion and the feeling of giving together as a family. Thanks to my own family for creating and modeling this Thanksgiving tradition.

3.  Dedicate each night of Hanukkah to an organization that inspires you. After you light candles, share a bit about the organization’s work with your family. Visit the website together, read a brochure, describe an experience you had, then make a donation to support their efforts.

4.  If your family tradition is to give your children gifts each night, set aside one night as a night to “give to others.” Go to a toy store together and pick out a toy to donate to a local drive. You can present your children with pre-loaded giving cards, such as the ones and offer, and let them decide which project they want to support. Another approach is to find an age-appropriate, meaningful volunteer opportunity to allow them to give of their time and energy as well; DoSomething and VolunteenNation have great resources.

5.  Pull out the crayons, stickers, scissors, and glue for a make-your-own tzedakah box activity. For the artistically challenged, there are kits available online. As you decorate, talk about tzedakah, what it means to give Jewishly, and why it’s important. Drop the first coins in together as an opportunity to recite the Shehecheyanu blessing.

6.  Another gift idea: Books! Read about giving, tzedakah, and philanthropy. Check out these tzedakah-related books for younger kids from PJ Library and these for older kids and adults.

7.  Watch a movie with a philanthropic message, like Pay it Forward or The Pursuit of Happyness, and talk about its key messages. Here’s a full list of movies and discussion questions, along with some other great activities for raising philanthropic kids.

8.  Unlike Thanksgivukkah, giving should occur more than once every 70,000 years. Use the holiday as a chance to make a long-term commitment by setting out a course for ongoing giving. Open up a donor-advised fund for your child through your local Jewish federation or community foundation. Encourage your teen to join a teen foundation board at your synagogue, JCC, federation, or summer camp. Establish a giving tradition that works for your family (Put money in the tzedakah box every week? Give a portion of allowance to tzedakah? Make an annual gift alongside a family day of volunteering over winter break?).

Although Thanksgiving and Hanukkah won’t meet again in our lifetimes, each holiday on its own is a chance to the think about the gifts we give and the gifts we’ve been given. Many of these ideas can be applied beyond the rare Thanksgivukkah occurrence. What ideas do you have for exploring philanthropy with your family? Share your suggestions in the comments section below.

Stefanie Zelkind serves as the Director of the Jewish Teen Funders Network, a growing community of teen philanthropy program professionals. She also serves as mommy to two-year-old Ari, who can’t wait to celebrate this once-in-a-lifetime holiday mashup. Stefanie can be reached at

Coen Bros. Torture Another Schlemiel While Imagining They Are Dylan’s True Heirs

‘Inside Llewyn Davis,’ opening December 6, pits the existential victim against the very possibility of Jewish success

By J. Hoberman for Tablet Magazine

There’s an art of contempt—Alfred Jarry opening Ubu Roi with a bellowed expletive, Marcel Duchamp exhibiting a urinal as art, Johnny Rotten snarling “God save the Queen,” or the young Bob Dylan hurling accusations at “Mr. Jones” over a wailing wall of sound. And then there’s the artful contempt perfected by filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen.

Llewyn DavisAn undeniably talented two-man band of brothers, the Coens take pleasure less in confronting their audience or authority in general, than in bullying the characters they invent for their own amusement. Theirs is a comic theater of cruelty populated by a battered cast of action figures and a worldview that might have been formulated not from a Buick 6, à la Dylan but the Olympian heights of a bunk bed in suburbia.

Beginning with their neo-noir Blood Simple, the brothers have delighted in ridiculing their hapless creations—the yokels in Raising Arizona or O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the garrulous gargoyles of The Man Who Wasn’t There, the idiot schemers who come to grief in The Ladykillers or Burn After Reading, the doomed victims of No Country for Old Men, even the likable police officer in Fargo. The urge to play capricious deity is occasionally suppressed, but it’s striking that with regard to A Serious Man, the movie they considered their most personal, Ethan Coen bragged or confessed that “the fun of the story for us was inventing new ways to torture” their Job-like anti-hero, Larry Gopnik.

While most Coen characters could be considered garden variety shmeggeges, Larry Gopnik is something more culturally specific: a schlemiel. A shmeggege is merely a nitwit. The luckless and self-deceiving, well-intentioned but ineffectual schlemiel, defined by the Universal Jewish Encyclopedia as one who “handles a situation in the worst possible manner” is an existential victim—or maybe the embodiment of an existential condition. It’s been suggested by Ruth Wisse in her published doctoral dissertation The Schlemiel as Modern Hero (a title sounding like a Woody Allen gag) that for writers like Sholem Aleichem the Jews were “a kind of schlemiel people” and that his American heirs, Saul Bellow, Bernard Malamud et al., perfected the schlemiel as literary type.

Abandoned by his wife, betrayed by his colleagues, ignored by his children, confounded by his rabbis, Larry Gopnik could be the most fully fledged schlemiel in American fiction since the eponymous anti-hero of Bruce Jay Friedman’s Stern. Stern, however, was a schlemiel in a gentile world; Gopnik is surrounded by Jews so grotesque that the movie might have been cast by Julius Streicher. (A Serious Man, as outraged Village Voice reviewer Ella Taylor wrote in a memorable rant, was “crowded with fat Jews, aggressive Jews, passive-aggressive Jews, traitor Jews, loser Jews, shyster-Jews, emo-Jews, Jews who slurp their chicken soup, and—passing as sages—a clutch of yellow-toothed, know nothing rabbis.” They are, to say the least, uniformly unlovely.)

Continue reading.

Monday, November 25, 2013

It’s Only Natural

Why Israel is the foundation upon which the house of Jewish culture can be most safely built

By Ran Baratz for Mosaic Magazine

It’s Only NaturalHillel Halkin’s Letters to an American Jewish Friend first came into my hands serendipitously. I knew of its existence in English but was unaware of a Hebrew translation. Then, on one of our regular visits with my wife’s parents at Kibbutz Maoz Haim in the Beit Shean valley, I found myself rooting through sacks of dusty books that the kibbutz library was offloading before sending them the way of all paper. There, among other finds, it lay—and in my native tongue.

Walking back to my in-laws’ house under the scorching sun, I opened to the first page, the second, third, fourth, and finished inhaling the rest in the cooling mercy of their air conditioner. I was struck not only by Halkin’s abundant intelligence but also by his intellectual honesty and courage. Of course, I already agreed with much of his thesis concerning the nature and meaning of Judaism after the establishment of the Jewish state. For his American Jewish readers, his analysis of their condition must have struck like an arrow.

Well established by now are Halkin’s all too accurate forecasts of the demographic decline of American Jewry. But that’s the least of it. The question is: why. And the answer, from my perspective, is related to a motif that runs like a scarlet thread through his book: the artificiality of Jewish identity in the Diaspora versus the natural identity of Jewish life in Israel. As a native Israeli, I hope I can contribute something to this trans-Atlantic conversation.

For Jews living outside Israel, especially in the liberal West, it can be hard to grasp the extent to which Judaism in Israel is predominantly a religion of the people.

I recall a Friday afternoon in the northern town of Rosh Pina. From the karaoke machine at a nearby swimming pool, Mizrahi music with a hip-hop beat reverberates incessantly. Suddenly, the yowlings of the immodestly dressed Jewish girls and their male counterparts in swimsuits and flip-flops are interrupted by an announcement crackling over the public-address system: “Shabbat begins soon!” Silence falls. Soon, showered, in white blouses, kippot out of pockets and on heads, they are making their way to synagogue, secular rock lyrics yielding to traditional sacred melodies.

Ask most of these pious young shul-goers: who is your favorite Jewish philosopher? How can Torah and science be reconciled? Do you think that choosing Judaism is an existential decision? They will think you insane.

Now ask:

Is there a chance you will marry a Gentile? “No way.”

Would you risk your life to fight for the Jewish people? “Absolutely.”

Do you believe in God? “Yes.”

Will you bequeath all this to your children? “A hundred percent.”

Are you proud to be a Jew? “With all my heart.”

Are all Jews brothers? “Yes.”

Continue reading.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Eight Nights of Tikkun Olam

 By Emily Rosenbaum for Raising Kvell

“Guys,” I said at dinner. “You know how every year on the first night of Hanukkah, we send gifts to kids on the Pine Ridge Reservation instead of getting gifts ourselves?”

Their mouths were filled with beans and their hands with burritos, but there was nodding and grunting. I pressed on, taking advantage of their momentary inability to object. “Well, I was thinking this year–since we have everything we need and some of the things we want–instead of doing eight nights of gifts, we could do eight nights of tikkun olam.”

Eight Nights of Tikkun Olam“Yeah!” 7-year-old Benjamin exclaimed through a not-quite-finished mouthful.

“Do you know what tikkun olam means?” I asked.

“Yes. It’s ‘healing the world.’”

“Like in the Rebecca books!” That was his 5-year-old sister. It’s all about the American Girl books with Lilah.

This was going better than I expected. We tossed around some ideas, like donating a Thanksgiving dinner or visiting a retirement home. Nine-year-old Zachary, however, was uncharacteristically quiet.

The idea had been inspired by bumper stickers that are popular in my Boston suburb. “Do you tikkun olam?” I pull up at stoplights behind these stickers at least three times a week. My reaction is always pretty much the same.

“Um, sometimes.”

I give to charity. I hold the door open for people and use canvas bags and compost. However, it doesn’t feel like enough. The vast majority of my days are spent living my life while feeling confident that tomorrow my kids will have access to fresh fruit and dental care.

More importantly, I’m doing a mediocre job teaching my kids to heal the world. We did the Walk for Hunger last year. They put a portion of their allowance aside to give to charity, and once they held a lemonade stand to help fund a homeless man’s move into an apartment. But, for the most part, the kids don’t know about our donations to Oxfam and Save the Children.

This is why my husband and I decided to ask our children to sacrifice a little to help others. Well, a little from an adult perspective. It looms pretty large from a child’s point of view.

We’re getting into that time of year during which our society seems based almost exclusively around the consumption of vast quantities of plastic toys and electronic items. Children go to school and talk about their gifts, which we tell them not to do but we all know they do anyway. This is when the lights get twinkly and the malls get nasty.

I love the happiness and peace Christmas brings some of my Christian friends. I have friends for whom Advent is a time of spiritual reflection and others who see distant relatives or reconnect with their loved ones. It’s a beautiful, meaningful holiday for many people. However–and I know I’m not alone in saying this–the frantic push to buy, buy, buy with ever-increasing urgency makes me want to curl up in a ball in the back of my closet and sing Maoz Tzur until January.

Buying my children lots of crap during this time of year feels like I’m subscribing to the happy-holidays-really-means-buy-Christmas-gifts school of thought. So, we asked our children to say “no” to stuff and “yes” to tikkun olam.

During that first dinner conversation, my younger two were enthusiastic about the idea. Zachary, however, still seemed to be mulling it over.

Finally, he spoke up. “We could donate books!” It had taken him a few minutes to respond because he had been thinking about what he would hope for if he had only some of what he needs and very little of what he wants.

They’re in–all of them. Eight days of tikkun olam instead of eight days of presents.

A week later, I was brushing Lilah’s hair after her bath and she mused quietly to herself, “We’re not getting anything for ourselves for Hanukkah. We’re getting things for other people.”

“That’s right, baby.”

She looked up at me. “We’re going to heal the world a little bit.”

“Yes, yes we are.”

Her eyes widened into a smile. “We could go to a soup kitchen and bring bread. Like in the Kit books!”

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Ukrainian game has players kill Jews

In ‘Nationalist simulator,’ users strafe the motherland’s ‘enemies,’ including gays, Russians, Americans and communists

By Ilan Ben Zion for Times of Israel

If you were a kid between the late 1970s and the early ’90s, chances are you’ve played Space Invaders, while the more adventurous among us have also tried Papers, Please.Ukranian Video GameNow, a Ukrainian website features a throwback to those games with one that challenges players to defend the motherland against Ukraine’s enemies: gays, Russians, Americans, communists and Jews.

Egged on by occasional chants of “Kill, kill!” in English and an unrelenting stream of invective in Ukrainian, players move a small Ukrainian flag icon armed with an AK-47 and fire on successive waves of targets.

The objective of the game is to shoot the rainbow flags, Russian flags, American flags, red balls and Jews, who are represented by orange circles adorned with yarmulkes and sidelocks.

If you let too many enemies pass by unscathed, the game, titled ”Nationalist Simulator — Defend Ukraine,” is over.

One Twitter user remarked that no matter how hard he tried, he found it impossible to defeat the unending wave of Jewish icons in the game. A Russian Twitter user asked, “God, why had no one come up with this amazing game?”

Another Russian Twitter user called it “a masterpiece.”

According to information about the site on Wolfram Alpha, the website’s servers are hosted in Berlin, Germany.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

TIME names ReWalk among ’25 Best Inventions of the Year 2013′

Futuristic Israeli medical device developed by ARGO Medical Technologies gives paraplegics their freedom.

By Viva Sarah Press for Israel21.c

Israeli-developed exoskeleton for paraplegics is one of TIME magazine’s 25 Best Inventions of the Year 2013. The medical device developed by ARGO Medical Technologies is hailed for the autonomy it gives back to those who need it most.

“Call it an exoskeleton or a bionic suit, but for paraplegics, it’s freedom. This innovative device, developed by a quadriplegic Israeli scientist, relies on sensors that anticipate shifts in the user’s balance and translates them into movements like walking and standing,” writes the magazine about ReWalk.

At the 2012 London Marathon, a 32-year-old paraplegic chiropractor ran the race wearing the ReWalk suit.

ISRAEL21c was the first media outlet to write about the quasi-robotic exoskeleton which includes leg braces with motorized joints and motion sensors, a brace support suit and a backpack with a computer and battery.

The story exploded across world media and even landed the futuristic suit a prime time slot on an episode of Glee.

“What makes an invention great? Sometimes it solves a problem you didn’t think could be solved. Skyscrapers can’t turn invisible. Pens can’t write in midair. Paraplegics can’t walk. Except now they can,” TIME writes in its introduction to this year’s list. ReWalk is available in Europe and has received FDA approval.

Other inventions to make the coveted list include the cronut, a new fusion food of donut and croissant; Motorola’s Edible Password Pill, which does exactly what its name implies; 3Doodler, a pen that doodles in three dimensions instead of two; an artificial pancreas, that detects dropping sugar levels and shuts off regular insulin delivery for Type 1 diabetics; and Volvo’s Solar Pavilion, flexible solar panel that charges the car and folds up to fit in the trunk, among others.

Read more

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Brandeis halts alliance with Palestinian university after Nazi-style demo

At recent rally, Al-Quds U. featured banners with images of Palestinian suicide bombers, and some students portrayed dead Israeli soldiers


Brandeis University has suspended its partnership with the Palestinian Al-Quds University.

Brandeis SuspensionBrandeis University President Frederick Lawrence made the announcement Monday, saying the university will re-evaluate the relationship in the future. The universities have been sister institutions since 1998.

The decision was made in light of recent events at the university — which has campuses in Jerusalem, Abu-Dis and Al-Bireh — including a Nov. 5 Nazi-style demonstration at the main campus.

During the demonstration, protesters marched in black military gear with fake automatic weapons while waving flags and offering the traditional Nazi salute. Banners with images of Palestinian suicide bombers decorated the campus’ main square, according to a statement from Brandeis. Several students also portrayed dead Israeli soldiers.

Following the demonstration Lawrence called on Al-Quds President Sari Nusseibeh to issue in Arabic and English a condemnation of the demonstration.

In a statement issued to Al-Quds students Sunday, Nusseibeh said that “Jewish extremists” were using the demonstration to “capitalize on events in ways that misrepresent the university as promoting inhumane, anti-Semitic, fascist, and Nazi ideologies.” Without these ideologies, he said “there would not have been the massacre of the Jewish people in Europe; without the massacre, there would not have been the enduring Palestinian catastrophe.”

“As occurred recently, these opportunists are quick to describe the Palestinians as a people undeserving of freedom and independence, and as a people who must be kept under coercive control and occupation. They cite these events as evidence justifying their efforts to muster broad Jewish and western opinion to support their position. This public opinion, in turn, sustains the occupation, the extension of settlements and the confiscation of land, and prevents Palestinians from achieving our freedom,” Nusseibeh wrote.

The Brandeis University statement called Nusseibeh’s message “unacceptable and inflammatory.” It added: “While Brandeis has an unwavering commitment to open dialogue on difficult issues, we are also obliged to recognize intolerance when we see it, and we cannot – and will not – turn a blind eye to intolerance.”

It said that the partnership was formed more than a decade ago with an eye toward “opening a dialogue and building a foundation for peace,” and called the relationship “productive in many respects.”

Monday, November 18, 2013

Seeking Shelter

Why I am filing for asylum in my own country

By Annika Hernroth-Rothstein for Mosaic

AnnikaHere in Stockholm this fall, we in the Jewish community have enjoyed our 21st annual Jewish film festival, a klezmer concert, and a number of other cultural diversions. I choose the word “diversions” advisedly. It’s thanks to such entertainments that so many of my fellow Jews can allow themselves to say that we’re doing okay here—that there’s no need to rock the boat or cause trouble.

But you know what? We are not okay, and this is not okay.

Kosher slaughter has been outlawed in my country since 1937, and a bill is now pending in parliament that would ban even the import and serving of kosher meat. Circumcision, another pillar of the Jewish faith, is likewise under threat. In my job as a political adviser to a Swedish party, I have dealt with two bills on this issue in the past year alone; a national ban is rapidly gaining political support in the parliament and among the Swedish public. When it comes to our religious traditions, those on both the Right and Left in Swedish politics find common ground; they take pride in defending both animals and children from the likes of us, and from what one politician has called our “barbaric practices.”

The avenues of aggression may be new, but the rhetoric is old and familiar—and so are the effects. In today’s Sweden, home to all of 20,000 Jews amidst a national population of some nine million, the public display of Jewish identity, like donning a kippah or wearing a Star of David pendant, puts an individual at severe risk of verbal harassment and, even worse, physical harm. Synagogues are so heavily guarded that Jewish tourists are turned away if they try to attend services unannounced. Inside the sanctuary, we celebrate our festivals and holy days under police protection. On the afternoon of Rosh Hashanah, during the five-minute walk to the water for the ceremony of tashlikh, my young son asked a guard why so many policemen were accompanying us. Replied the officer: “so that no bad people can hurt you.”

This is the self-image—the reality—that Jewish children in Sweden grow up with: being Jewish means being under threat of harm from bad people. This is where we are at. One by one, our practices are being outlawed. Attacks on us are going unpunished. Politicians, journalists, and intellectuals describe us as barbarians. On November 9, the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, a few hundred neo-Nazis marched through Stockholm in solidarity with their Greek allies in the Golden Dawn party. They marched legally, with police permits. Another few hundred leftists turned out in protest; a significant number were waving Hamas flags and sporting Palestinian kefiyahs. It made for a perfect synergy: a solemn anniversary, a day of shame, hijacked, with official permission, by two extreme and nominally opposite sides of the political spectrum, united by their hatred of Jews.

Continue reading.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Caught on Tape, a U.N. Interpreter Wonders Aloud at its Israel Bashing

“There’s other really bad s**t happening, but no one says anything”

By Yair Rosenberg for Tablet Magazine

Yesterday was “bash Israel” day at the United Nations–which is to say, Thursday. The U.N. General Assembly, which last year passed 22 resolutions condemning Israel and only four against other individual countries, approved nine such resolutions lambasting the Jewish state. Naturally, it had nothing to say about violations in the rest of the world, though it did manage to lament the situation in Syria–that is, Israel’s occupation of the Golan Heights.

You don’t have to be a Zionist or a supporter of Israeli policy to recognize the profound injustice at work in the U.N.’s treatment of the Jewish state. In fact, as it turns out, even an official U.N. interpreter would be hard pressed not to notice it. Thus, during yesterday’s session, between the sixth and seventh resolution against Israel, the interpreter on the floor expressed her mystification with the body’s obsession with Israel at the expense of other global concerns, not realizing her microphone was still on:

    I mean, I think when you have five statements, not five, like a total of ten resolutions on Israel and Palestine, there’s gotta be something, c’est un peu trop, non? [It’s a bit much, no?] I mean I know… There’s other really bad shit happening, but no one says anything, about the other stuff.

As you can see in the video below, the remark was greeted by laughter among the assembled delegates, after which the mortified interpreter apologized. The proceedings then continued, with Mauritania asking to retroactively add its voice to the sixth resolution condemning Israel’s human rights abuses. Mauritania, of course, boasts nearly a million people in chattel slavery. It is also the vice president of the U.N. Human Rights Council.

Watch the whole circus below (the hot mic moment occurs at 1:56):

Thursday, November 14, 2013

35 Signs You Were Raised By A Jewish Mother

Now for something a little lighter today...

Jewish MOther1. You know to always bring a jacket no matter what the temperature is.

5. She asks, “Are you eating?” every time you talk on the phone.

6. But she’s not above telling you that you’ve put on weight.

8. She has the best recipe for brisket, all others be damned.

13. She’d prefer you marry a Jew, but if you don’t, it’s not the end of the world. Just raise the children Jewish.

18. Twenty years later, she’s still talking about your Bar or Bat Mitzvah on a regular basis.

19. But only because she doesn’t have a wedding to talk about yet. HAVE YOU MET ANY NICE JEWISH BOYS OR GIRLS LATELY? Continue reading.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Germany's Nazi Past Is Back

by Jacob Heilbrunn for Mosaic

Nazi Art LootingIt won't go away. It's uncomfortable, clammy, damp, noxious. Two events this past week testified to the lingering hold that memories of Nazism have in modern Germany. The further distant it seems, the more it resurfaces.

The first is the discovery that Adolf Eichmann's superior is apparently buried in a Jewish cemetery in the former East Berlin. East Germany, which prided itself as an "anti-fascist" redoubt facing down the revanchist West Germany, never sought to face up to the Nazi past. Instead, it tried to claim that it had nothing in common with the Nazis. So perhaps it should not be surprising that it never really tried to explore what happened to Gestapo chief Heinrich Muller, who participated in the Wannsee Conference which formally authorized the destruction of European Jewry in January 1942. Now Professor Johannes Tuchel, who heads the German Resistance Center in Berlin, says that Muller's corpse was thrown into a mass grave in the Jewish cemetery in 1945.

The second is another discovery. It's that hundreds of priceless paintings seized by the Nazis, often as "degenerate art,"--Hitler staged an entire exhibition of it in 1939 in Munich, only to discover to his consternation that the public actually flocked to see it out of interest rather than contempt--have been residing for decades in the apartment of the son of a Nazi era art dealer. Art was central to the self-conception of of Hitler. Much of Nazism, as Frederic Spotts has suggested in Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics, was a form of stagecraft with Hitler as the impresario of an entire country--the emphasis on Wagner, the torchlight parades, the tours of Weimar, the city of Goethe and Schiller, for German troops, the planned art museum in Linz. The Fuhrer spent much time fussing with his pet architect Albert Speer over their plans for Linz even as the net of doom came ever closer. The failed Viennese painter was convinced that he could purify the German race and conceived of himself as a political artist. Thomas Mann even called him "Brother Hitler."

But the Nazis were also running a criminal enterprise. Looting was a core principle of Nazism. So they stole from the Jews anything they could, down to the gold in their teeth. After the war much of it went missing. Now it appears that the elderly Cornelius Gurlitt had about 1,400 pieces stashed that he had inherited, if that is the appropriate word, from his father. The German government seems to have kept the find secret for over a year until Focus magazine broke the story. So far, the German government is hanging tough in the face of calls to restore the art to the Jewish families or descendants who originally possessed it. Why did it keep mum about the discovery? Protests are mounting inside Germany:

'Transparency and a swift procedure are important here,' Dieter Graumann, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, told German regional newspaper the Passauer Neue Presse.

'We are talking about the stolen inheritance of Jewish collectors, who could now experience delayed justice in (getting) belongings of their families ... returned to their rightful owners,' Graumann said.

Presumably, international pressure will be intense enough to force the German government to back down. Or will it? Germany, the paymaster of Europe, as it is known, is feeling somewhat emboldened these days. Piqued at American spying and proud of its economic prowess, Berlin could remain defiant. For now, it's simply engaging in foot-dragging, which has all along been the German response, by and large, to revelations about Nazi era crimes, at least when it comes to making restitution for them. But the two revelations of the past week are unlikely to be the last ones from a tenebrous era that continues to shadow Germany.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Israel Dispatches Team to Philippines

If you cannot view video, try here.

JERUSALEM, Israel -- Tiny Israel is always one of the first countries to respond to natural disasters around the world and the Philippines' Typhoon Haiyan is no different.

Authorities estimate the super-typhoon killed at least 10,000 people and displaced more than 600,000.

A six-person advance team from Israel's military reserves headed to the Philippines on Sunday. They'll assess the situation and prepare for a larger contingent.

Navonel Glick is the program director of IsraAID, the organization funding the mission. He said they'll partner with Christians to deliver their help.

"We have the partners on the ground," Glick told CBN News.

"It's trying to use the network, the incredible network that they have there and that they've prepared already, that they're getting together maybe all different churches, all different communities, maybe their connections, making sure that we get onto a plane first and trying to get there as quickly as possible," he explained.

"And we're coordinating everything with them. They're a very, very precious partner that we've had for a long time and we're happy to go back and help as much as we can," he said.

Israel's team will probably include medical and trauma experts.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Brewing Israel-U.S. crisis || Kerry: No deal on Iran yet, Netanyahu's opposition premature

Speaking in Abu Dhabi, U.S. Secretary of State says time to oppose a deal is 'when you see what it is'; Peres downplays reports of Israeli-U.S. divisions on Iran.

By The Associated Press

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says said Monday that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "needs to recognize that no agreement" with Iran has been reached and his opposition is premature. "The time to oppose [a deal] is when you see what it is," Kerry said to reported in Abu Dhabi.

Kerry Talks on Iran In a tense meeting with Kerry ahead of his departure to Geneva last week, Netanyahu said that Israel does not see itself committed to any deal reached between the P5+1 and Iran in their negotiations.

Kerry called off making a statement before the meeting in an attempt to avoid a public confrontation. But Netanyahu decided to go ahead with a statement on his own, in which he slammed a possible agreement between Iran and the six world powers.

Iran got "the deal of the century and the international community got a bad deal," Netanyahu told reporters. "Israel utterly rejects it and many in the region share my opinion, whether or not they express that publicly. Israel is not obliged by this agreement and Israel will do everything it needs to do to defend itself and the security of its people."

In an address to the annual General Assembly of Jewish Federations of North America on Sunday in Jerusalem, Netanyahu made a direct appeal for Jews worldwide to join him in speaking out against the deal. It is a "bad and dangerous deal" that threatens Israel’s survival and “on matters of Jewish survival, I will not be silenced,” Netanyahu said.

Kerry also said that the major powers were unified on Saturday when the proposal was presented to the Iranians. He said "The French signed off on it, we signed off on it." But he said that Iran wasn't able to accept the deal "at the particular moment."

Speaking at General Assembly Monday, Israeli President Shimon Peres and United States Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro expressed confidence in the U.S.’s determination to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

Continue reading.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Swastikas, Slurs and Torment in Town’s Schools

Pine Bush, N.Y., School District Faces Accusations of Anti-Semitism

By BENJAMIN WEISER for the New York Times

The swastikas, the students recalled, seemed to be everywhere: on walls, desks, lockers, textbooks, computer screens, a playground slide — even on a student’s face.

 A picture of President Obama, with a swastika drawn on his forehead, remained on the wall of an eighth-grade social studies classroom for about a month after a student informed her teacher, the student said.

For some Jewish students in the Pine Bush Central School District in New York State, attending public school has been nothing short of a nightmare. They tell of hearing anti-Semitic epithets and nicknames, and horrific jokes about the Holocaust.

They have reported being pelted with coins, told to retrieve money thrown into garbage receptacles, shoved and even beaten. They say that on school buses in this rural part of the state, located about 90 minutes north of New York City and once home to a local Ku Klux Klan chapter president, students have chanted “white power” and made Nazi salutes with their arms.

The proliferation and cumulative effect of the slurs, drawings and bullying led three Jewish families last year to sue the district and its administrators in federal court; they seek damages and an end to what they call pervasive anti-Semitism and indifference by school officials.

The district — centered in Pine Bush, west of Newburgh, and serving 5,600 children from Orange, Sullivan and Ulster Counties — is vigorously contesting the suit. But a review of sworn depositions of current and former school officials shows that some have acknowledged there had been a problem, although they denied it was widespread and said they had responded appropriately with discipline and other measures.

Continue reading.

And the Thanksgivukkah Videos keep coming!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Turkey's Jewish community in decline

by Shlomi Eldar for Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse

Turkeys JewsRumors that Jewish families are leaving Turkey have been making the rounds for a long time now, but as relations between Turkey and Israel deteriorate, those rumors are slowly becoming facts. Turkey’s Jews interpret the hostility to Israel they hear day and night from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu as a personal attack against them. The change in mood and in Turkish public opinion as a result of those leaders’ anti-Israeli policy can be felt by the local Jews on a daily basis. Turkey's Jewish community has thrived for decades, but it now feels that its future can no longer be assured.

Until very recently, the leaders of the community boasted that there were never any open manifestations of anti-Semitism in modern Turkey, or in the Ottoman Empire for that matter. Jews not only enjoyed religious freedom, but maintained a relationship of camaraderie and friendship with the Muslim population. Many Turkish Jews remained in the country even after the wave of immigration to Israel in the 1950s. They regarded the country as their homeland and planned their futures there. But recently, all that has changed. As of now, the heads of the Jewish community are struggling to conceal their deep concern that within just a few years, nothing will remain of Turkey’s glorious Jewish legacy, which flourished throughout Turkey's history. More families leave every week in search of a safer future for their children elsewhere.

 Continue reading.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Anti-Zionist Civil War on the Left

Jonathan S. Tobin for Commentary

Some in the pro-Israel community are having a good chuckle at the feud that has erupted between Jewish left-wingers in the past couple of weeks. But rather than laughing, those who care not only about Israel but also the direction of the conversation about Israel in the post-Oslo era and what it portends for the future should be concerned.

Anti-Zionist Civil WarThe exchange between the anti-Zionist Max Blumenthal and his antagonists among the ranks of left-wingers who are often critical of Israel but defend its existence shows how pointless much of the debate that has been carried on between the left and the right about borders and settlements has been. As risible as the arguments put forward by Blumenthal trashing Israelis as “non-indigenous” interlopers in the Arab world who must be made to surrender their sovereignty, culture, and homes may be, they represent the cutting edge of left-wing thought that has come to dominate European discussions of the Middle East.

The dustup centers on Goliath, a new anti-Israel screed by Blumenthal, the son of Clinton administration figure Sidney Blumenthal, published by Nation Books. But to Blumenthal’s chagrin, the magazine (which is no stranger to anti-Zionist articles) allowed columnist Eric Alterman to write about it in The Nation. Alterman is himself a fierce and often obnoxious critic of Israel and defenders of Israel, and has been a major promoter of the myth that the pro-Israel community has been seeking to silence the Jewish state’s critics. Yet Blumenthal’s book was so appalling that Alterman took it apart in the magazine that spawned it. Calling it “The ‘I Hate Israel’ Handbook,” Alterman scored it for its frequent comparisons of the Jews with the Nazis and its complete absence of any acknowledgement of the Muslim and Arab war to destroy Israel. As Alterman wrote in a subsequent blog post, “It is no exaggeration to say that this book could have been published by the Hamas Book-of-the-Month Club (if it existed).”

To give you a taste of how outrageous this book is, Blumenthal even has the nerve to recount a conversation with Israeli author David Grossman who has been an important figure in the peace movement in which he lectured the Israeli about the need for the state to be dismantled and for its citizens to make their peace with the need to rejoin the Diaspora rather than to cling to their homes. Grossman responds to Blumenthal by walking out and telling him to tear up his phone number. Blumenthal attributes Grossman’s reaction to Israeli myopia.

But it gets better. As the Forward’s J.J. Goldberg writes in his own column on the dispute, Blumenthal appeared at a Philadelphia event with the University of Pennsylvania’s Ian Lustick (whose recent anti-Zionist diatribe in the New York Times was discussed here).

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